The stream of precursors that colonizes the thymus proceeds selectively through the early T lineage precursor stage of T cell development
T cell development in the thymus depends on continuous colonization by hematopoietic precursors. Several distinct T cell precursors have been identified, but whether one or several independent precursor cell types maintain thymopoiesis is unclear. We have used thymus transplantation and an inducible lineage-tracing system to identify the intrathymic precursor cells among previously described thymus-homing progenitors that give rise to the T cell lineage in the thymus. Extrathymic precursors were not investigated in these studies. Both approaches show that the stream of T cell lineage precursor cells, when entering the thymus, selectively passes through the early T lineage precursor (ETP) stage. Immigrating precursor cells do not exhibit characteristics of double-negative (DN) 1c, DN1d, or DN1e stages, or of populations containing the common lymphoid precursor 2 (CLP-2) or the thymic equivalent of circulating T cell progenitors (CTPs). It remains possible that an unknown hematopoietic precursor cell or previously described extrathymic precursors with a CLP, CLP-2, or CTP phenotype feed into T cell development by circumventing known intrathymic T cell lineage progenitor cells. However, it is clear that of the known intrathymic precursors, only the ETP population contributes significant numbers of T lineage precursors to T cell development.